Google Receives Geofence Warrants

from Schneier on Security

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the corporate surveillance operations from the government ones:

Google reportedly has a database called Sensorvault in which it stores location data for millions of devices going back almost a decade.

More here.

Posted in Privacy and tagged , , , , .


  1. This article was very interesting as it reminded me of a similar type of issue that has occurred more than once between Apple and the FBI. After a shooting in San Bernardino, California that left 14 people dead, a federal court requested of Apple to aid the FBI in unlocking the phone so they could access location and personal information. Apple swiftly responded and stated firmly it would not assist the government in any way. The way iPhones work, they are encrypted until the passcode given to them is entered into the phone. Information cannot be accessed from the phone in it’s locked state without entering this password, and Apple has no way of knowing the passcode or finding it out. Thus, the FBI proposed that Apple make a backdoor software for them that would allow law enforcement to bypass certain security measures, in essence allowing them to unlock any iPhone they can get their hands on.
    This would not be the last time law enforcement attempted to get apple on their side, even recently asking to have another device unlocked for an investigation. Apple’s position throughout this has been the same, believing that creating this software would be negating the privacy they have insured and promised their customers. They claim that the technology that the FBI needs does not even exist yet, since although it could be made by Apple with relative ease, they believe the creation of this software would jeopardize the security of all Apple products.
    Now, when you Google location services and even when you use Google on your phone, Google tracks your location. And it saves this information in a database that has been recording this type of data for almost a decade. And it seems from reading this article that Google does not share the same concerns as Apple does with helping law enforcement with giving locations and information. Although the police were to be given an anonymized list, they are still given the location of every device within a 25 meter radius around the area of interest. It is interesting to see how two companies can have two completely different attitudes about a similar situation, with Apple pulling up an iron curtain and Google leaving the door wide open.

  2. In the current internet age that our society is in, different tactics are continually being placed into use to go after criminal offenders. An example of one of these methods is a geofence warrant, which according to NBC News, “is a way for law enforcement authorities to take advantage of the company’s collection of massive amounts of information on its customers.” With the use of these geofence warrant’s law enforcement agencies have an easier time going after criminal offenders and detaining them. Geofence warrants, however, come at a price, which brings up the point of what does law enforcement have the right to go after and what data do private corporations have the right to store. In the blog post titled Google Receives Geofence Warrants, the authors discuss this in great detail, referencing the Edward Snowden incident back in 2013 and stating that In “2013, we learned from Edward Snowden that the NSA does this worldwide. Its program is called CO-TRAVELLER. The NSA claims it stopped doing that in 2014 — probably just stopped doing it in the US — but why should it bother when the government can get the data from Google”. With this, it brings up an all-new issue of why it is not okay for the government to keep a log of all internet activities, but when Google does it or some other private corporation it is okay? On a personal level, I would much rather trust my government with a log of all my online information than a company such as Google, who will eventually turn around and sell my information to the highest bidder. In part because the government at least has some guidelines to follow with the information they take while private corporations such as Google don’t have the same standards. People being less scared about a private corporation having their data, then the government shows the deep-rooted fear that people harbor towards the government and whether the US government can be trusted or not. Even if those fears are warranted or not, it still does bring up the issue of government versus a corporation or if they should even have a right to collect the information in the first place. Internally independent on who one thinks has the right to this collect this information is the key question to this whole issue, does either google or other private entities, or the US government even have the right to collect this information in the first place. Well, in tell laws come about addressing this, the internet will remain the wild west with private corporations doing their thing, and the government doing their own, leaving what you search for on the internet to have very little privacy attached to It.

  3. It’s funny to think that a company whose motto was once, “don’t be evil.”, is now the same company that has a database that tracks and stores the location of peoples phones and other devices. I guest their new motto of, “do the right thing.”, is more fitting, if by “…right thing.” they mean the “thing” that makes Google more money no matter how morally dubious it seems. It is utterly disgusting that these companies have violated the privacy of their users. The Federal government should force Google to dismantle their database and inform the nation of what other organizations had used their database. The People of the United States deserve to know who has been tracking them and for what reasons.

    It is even more disgusting that police departments have used Google to obtain the data found in its Orwellian database. If the government still had a database on Americans like the one Google does people would be calling it unconstitutional and nightmarish. It is not much better now that local authorities are using a corporation to obtain this information. The agencies that used information obtained from Google should have their police chiefs and department heads fired for obtain evidence through such an unjust and covert fashion. The evidence that was obtain by this process should be reviewed by the higher courts, to determine if the way in which the process of obtaining it makes it unmissable in a court of law. Some may say that it is good that the police are able to obtain this information because it solves crimes. To these people I say that it is probably not good idea to trade liberty for safety, for you have to trust that the people in charge of your safety will not attempt to abuse their power newfound power over you.

    It seems day by day, year by year, more and more of our rights are tarnished by corporations trying to make a profit at any cost and by government agencies overstepping their constitutional authority. The US public should tolerate these injustices no longer. All those who seek to violate the rights of the average American, no matter their reason should face criminal charges over these offenses against the American people. Sadly, I don’t think we will see any changes on this front anytime soon. There are too many interest groups that want to use this technology for their own purposes.

  4. This article had caught my attention since I did not know what a geofence warrant was and how it was connected to google. I know what the word warrant means so I was worried that these warrants would be used with my google information in some way and I have never heard of it. After reading the article and learning that these warrants are used to collect information from certain pin-pointed areas in serious situations, I was no longer worried about this term. I do not think that people should be concerned with the use of these geofence warrants unless they are doing extremely illegal activities, which would be their own personal problem. These companies, such as google, only use our information for proper reasons, like in this case to lower crime rates and catch criminals. Most people allow for their information to be shared with many different apps or companies and do not care until it is being used for something greater. The law enforcement office has to specifically ask for these warrants and they are only used in specific areas so I do not think our information is being widely spread around or breached in any way. I strongly support the use of these geofence warrants as it is only used to help the society and make sure that everyone is safe by lowering the crime rate and removing criminals from the streets. This is a very unique way to try and track criminal activity like the ones who tried to rob the Brinks armored truck from the article. I do not think that everyone knows about these types of warrants especially criminals, so it should definitely be an easier way to catch them. I think that society is moving more towards using the use of technology in every way possible, so if people have such a large problem with companies using it against them, they should not use the technology or share their information with these companies.

  5. It is fantastic that technology has advanced far enough to allow the police to be able to catch criminals by utilizing the locations of other people who would’ve been in the area at that time. What’s extremely troubling is not what they are doing, but how they are doing it. Google maintaining a database that has the data of millions of people without them explicitly knowing it, is wrong. I argue there is no reason for a company to keep and store information of that kind for any reason. Therefore, their reasoning for doing so must be in the best interest of the company. This should cause alarm for regular people all over the world and companies who are caught doing this should be faced with harsh penalties.

    Some people may not be concerned with what companies do with their data, but in reality they should be. It’s not about knowing what companies like Google have been doing, it’s about knowing what they are currently doing. For example, the last update you performed for your Google device had you accept new terms and conditions that you most likely never read. Maybe somewhere buried in there is a single line stating a different way they can infringe on your privacy. People fear government surveillance yet ignore the largest threat to them in this arena: corporate surveillance. Companies like Google have integrated themselves into nearly every aspect of daily life. There are Google phones, apps, internet browsers, even bank accounts now. The fact being that Google is capable of accessing all the information regarding your life. Privacy is something that should be thought of the next time you let Google remember your password and have it possibly stored in their database. There needs to be better practices of handling user data in the future in order to ensure boundaries are not being infringed upon.

  6. The idea that companies such as Google in the article track your information and create profile on you and know about everything that you do online is scary. Geofencing however, is a whole other level of privacy concerns. Geofencing something I have never heard of until reading this article is the ability for law enforcement to warrant to get information and data on the millions of users within an area. This would allow them in their opinion to better track and find people and accomplices of crimes within the certain area. So, then even if you had no idea that a crime had happened, but you were within a particular radius of where the crime did happen it is possible that the police could have your information as well. Thus, leaving you susceptible to prosecution from the police, even if the initial reason they collected this data from companies like Google had nothing to do with you. It is crazy to think that companies and now the police have the capabilities to do such things. The article outlines how the process works saying “Google provide the location data history, sourced from GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi signals, from every device in a small geofenced area – the 25 meters.” There is also something to be said about googles Sensorvault, which is their place to store all of its users personal data that is either used in situations such as these or is sold to other companies who then send you targeted ads on your social media platforms etc. They have data from the last ten years or so from anyone who has used google or even their cell phones to go online or use location services to find somewhere to eat. I think that something needs to change regarding data privacy in this case and in many others. It is very unproven how successful this method is of actually finding and apprehending the suspects of crimes.

  7. The more and more that we read about instances where companies are taking away our privacy makes me more aware of what I am actually doing on my phone and with it. In this instance, it is with the Geofence warrants that are being asked of Google. Google has our information of where we have been at certain times for a decade worth of time on each device. For what reason this information is needed from a company like Google is beyond me. I can understand that this may be so that they can see where we go and give us advertisements for similar things, but that is taking it a step to far. We are already tracked for everything that we do on the internet that they get a pretty good scope of our personalities, and interests to give us targeted ads. This is now a great help for the police, because they are now able to go to companies like Google that keep this information and better their search for facts in cases. This can be from seeing who was in the area of a crime to question, or actually seeing if a potential suspect is lying of whether or not he was there at that certain time. I think that these companies should not give things like this over to the police because it is a violation of the trust that the consumer has with that brand. The company, in essence, is selling out the customer with this information. The possibilities are endless of what this information can be used for. With all this information however comes an area of abuse. If the police are able to get this information through the companies, we can assume that people that aren’t supposed to have this information can get it too. This would make it extremely easy to stalk someone by understanding their routines and being there when they are. This can be a huge danger risk to many civilians that aren’t even aware that information like this is being kept by companies. I did not even know previously that location data was kept back that far and that police have come to companies like Google for it.

  8. I found this article interesting, and it makes me wonder if the police in Finland has the ability to do the same as the police do here. I don’t think the people in Finland would have any issue with the police taking more liberties to ensure the safety of the country, even though Finland is a very safe country to start with. I personally don’t see it as a bad thing for the police to have the ability to request for help from the companies.

    I wasn’t sure what a geofence warrant was before I read the article. I don’t see at as a bad thing, but I do understand how it might make some people uncomfortable. In today’s day and age, police will need more technology to catch criminals, and if it requires civilians to lose a their privacy on the internet, I am fine with it. Most of today’s generation share every aspect of their to social media anyway, so what would be the issue if the police or FBI searched a little deeper?

  9. In this article, Geofence takes a whole another level with people’s privacy. Since Google will now know where you are right now, even if location tracking on your Google apps is turned off. There this program called “Sensorvault” which Police/Law enforcement can use it to track anyone’s locations, thus this database can store location data for million devices. In my opinion, I would be fine with this program since I’m not doing anything wrong that can cause law enforcement to track my location. However, since Sensorvault stores millions of personal information then that can mean Google can simply send personal information to businesses. There are many cases where Google sends personal information to businesses, therefore many people would receive ads. In the end, I will still trust how Sensorvault can prevent crimes and be helpful for law enforcement, but only for those who are trustworthy than businesses for are seeking to make money.

  10. Social media has recently and rapidly become one of the greatest sources of content and entertainment on the internet. More so directed at young adults, social media has found its way into the lives of people in all age ranges and parts of the word. Social media has become very controlling and influential for that reason. The term and its principles of social media now have an established power in the modern world and have raised concern for their users. TikTok is one of the latest uproar in downloads and is growing increasingly popular.

    Of course, the success of a social media platform that isn’t owned by Mark Zuckerburg is unbelievably shocking to the world and sparked a great deal of curiosity for competing platforms. It was eventually discovered that TikTok is a Chinese owned company Bytedance, founded by Zhang Yiming. The Chinese ownership of the company brought controversy and politics into the equation. There were originally issues regarding the content on the app and if Bytedance had the ability to modify the content to politically please the Chinese government. This theory was eventually debunked but there is still a great deal of concern regarding the Chinese government ownership of personal American information. Since 2016, when election complications and interference occurred with the Russian government, The United States have really been on their toes about cyber security. The fear of Chinese interference in the upcoming elections is prominent and in my opinion, logical. It’s important to stay proactive and aware in situations that are involved with such a great degree of severity in regards to personal information.

    It’s important to remember that the information from cell phones of app users is not the only information that is vulnerable to theft or interference. While this remains as a theory, I have no issue supporting its logic. The power and influence that social media has due to its popularity is dangerous and needs to remain as a high priority in our nation’s security.

  11. This article speaks about what geofencing is. Geofencing is a great way for the government and police to collect data on persons of interest in specific areas. Some may not like the idea of the government being able to collect information, but if you have nothing to hide, then why would it bother you? It is because geofencing may be violating the right to privacy. I believe it should not bother people since the government does not care about your day to day operations, they are looking for a specific target.
    More than often, individuals are too sensitive. It seems like someone is always unhappy about something. I am sure there are people using the right to privacy to try and fight the idea of geofencing. We are all humans, we probably do similar activities, have similar problems, and have similar interests. The government agents are not hired to see what you are up to. They are paid to perform and execute a task.

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